Phonak is one of the world's largest hearing aid manufacturers, so it's safe to say it knows more about sound than your average startup or celebrity-endorsed manufacturer that's just now dipping their toes into the lucrative headphone market.
Phonak launched the Audeo brand four years ago, and its headphones are now widely distributed in Europe, but the U.S. ramp up has been slow. The company offers a complete line of earphones, with prices starting at $119 for the PFE 012 all the way up to $599 for the PFE 232.
All Audeo earphones are exceptionally comfortable, but the PFE 232's excellent sound to boot earns it a solid recommendation that competes with the very best in-ear models.
Design and features
I expected lavish build quality from this $599 headphone, with something special like pure titanium earpieces or silver cables, but the PFE 232 is just a black and gray plastic headphone.
The headphone doesn't come with ear tips preinstalled, so you should try them all and see which creates the best seal -- that's standard fare for in-ear designs, but this is where it gets interesting: Audeo headphones use proprietary Acoustic Filters that change the sound of the earphones (the filters are extremely small discs that fit in the nozzle of each earpiece).
You get three sets of color-coded filters: gray, black, and green. The gray filters are installed when you unbox the earphones and they emphasize midrange frequencies, but sound the most neutral to me. The black filter boosts the bass and highs and the green filter pushes only the bass frequencies up.
The filters are packed in a small travel case, which comes with a special tool used to install and remove the filters in the earphones. Few headphones allow this sort of fine-tuning.
The PFE 232 comes with a 48-inch-long, tangle-resistant cable with an inline microphone and volume control compatible with iPods, iPads, iPhones, and most smartphones using a 4-pole 3.5mm jack. You also get a standard cable without the microphone and volume control. Both cables are user replaceable, so when they eventually break you can pop on a new one.
The thin, flexible earphone cables are designed to loop back behind your ears, and Audeo supplies curved silicone "ear guides" that slip onto the cables to help secure the earpieces in place. The guides helped, but the earpieces sometimes lost the seal and would require some fiddling to re-establish the tips' seal in my ears to get the best possible sound.